Riga is an extremely underrated European destination to spend a summer getaway. Here is your day guide to the city, where you can learn about its tumultuous history, enjoy the beauty of its parks and architecture, and have delicious meals at affordable prices at one of its many picturesque restaurants or cafes.
Best time to visit
We recommend you visit Riga in the summer to fully take advantage of the following things to do in the city. Visiting between June and September means you’ll avoid the crowds in the south of Europe, and enjoy sunshine and warmth as you take in the beautiful parks and cruises the city has to offer.
Looking for a place to start? The Riga Cathedral, an Evangelical, Lutheran Cathedral, is an iconic landmark of the city, as is the beautiful pipe organ located within the premises.
This cathedral is situated adjoining the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation (see below). There is a lovely courtyard and small exhibit within the cathedral.
St. Peter’s Church
Climb the tower of St. Peter’s Church to enjoy breathtaking views over the city.
House of the Blackheads
Built by a Guild of unmarried German merchants in Riga, the architecture of this building is stunning. It is habitually closed for renovations, but it is worth just taking in the building (and the surrounding square) even from the outside.
Museum of the Occupation of Latvia
The history of occupation over the Baltic countries is a fascinating one, even for those who are not scholars of history. Learn about Latvian resistance and the struggle for independence, as well as the relationship with their German, Russian, and other occupiers, at this informative museum.
The KGB Building (Corner House)
If there’s one tour you’ll take in Riga, let it be this one. Our tour was given to us by a former Soviet prison guard (!) They present real, unadorned accounts and evidence of KGB dealings within the city and the Baltics in general. A tour of the prisons, the prison yard, and various offices are included, as is a short film depicting the killing of Soviet prisoners/suspected spies/suspected dissidents etc. Real details on how prisoners and families of prisoners are treated, are included. Reservations are required: you can visit the museum at 10 am to see if there are spots available for the day, or make one for the next day.
These three buildings form the oldest complex of dwelling houses in Riga. They were home to craftsmen at the time. The “Oldest” brother (1496), on the far right, was home to manufacturing and trade. The “Middle” brother (1646) was the richest of the three, being more modern and spacious than the others. The “Youngest” brother was built in the second half of the 17th century – the late 1600s – and is the narrowest and the smallest of the brothers.
As evident in its name, the Powder Tower was originally part of the defensive network of Riga. Now it is a lovely stop to make as you walk through to the beautiful parks nearby.
Bastion Hill, the parks
The parks of Riga were one of our favorite things about the city. With fountains, beautiful bridges, paddle-boats (and paddle-swans) to rent, benches to relax on, small hills with lookout points, and ice cream vendors galore, you can spend a glorious few hours in the parks of the city.
This gate was originally built to provide access to the barracks located outside of the city wall. Now it is a great place to head to, to check out a line of restaurants nearby (and maybe for a photo op!)
Stunningly intricate like most Orthodox cathedrals, the Nativity cathedral of Riga is worth a visit. You are required to cover your head as a woman when you enter – they provide small scarves to do so. Take it all in – photos are not allowed inside.
St. James’ Cathedral (not St. Jacob’s)
Originally built as a Catholic church, it passed onto the Protestants, Jesuits, and back to Catholic hands since its inception in 1225. It sometimes mistakenly referred to as St. Jacob’s Church/Cathedral.
St. Gertrude Old Church
Rebuilt several times, this church has thought to have existed back in 1418. It was destroyed several times as a result of different foreign invasions into the city. The current iteration of the church was completed in 1869.
St. John’s Cathedral
An active place of worship, this Lutheran Cathedral is dedicated to St. John the Baptist.
The Freedom Monument honors those Latvian soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence from 1918 – 1920. Built in 1935, it is considered an important symbol of the sovereignty and independence of Latvia. Also known as the Latvian War of Liberation, it was primarily fought between the newly formed Republic of Latvia and Soviet Russia. During the Soviet occupation of Latvia (until 1991, with an interim German occupation during World War II), there was talk of taking down the monument but nothing came of it.
Museum of History of Riga and Navigation
This is an interesting, if not off-beat, museum to visit to learn more about the history of Riga. There is a specific exhibit hall for kids, as well as several floors of books, paintings, and regalia worn by Latvians in the city through the ages. There is a very interesting exhibit of different clocks through the ages as well. This is the oldest public museum in Latvia and one of the oldest in Europe.
The beautiful cafes and restaurants
Riga is home to a host of beautiful restaurants and cafes, which serve an array of excellent dishes and spirits at extremely affordable prices. Visiting in the summer means you’ll get to enjoy these outdoor restaurants at their best.
Kronvalda Park: See Sam
There is a 12-meter-tall statue of a monkey cosmonaut in Kronvalda Park. Needless to say, this is an astonishing sight! “Sam” is the work of a Russian sculptor, and is dedicated to the animals that participated in the exploration of space up to date.
The Museums in general
Riga is home to a stunning array of museums that include but are not limited to: The Latvian Museum of National History, Latvian Museum of Photography, Riga Aviation Museum, Riga Porcelain Museum, Riga Motor Museum, Riga Art Nouveau Museum, Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum, Latvian Railway History Museum, and even the World of Hat Museum! Take a look around and if you have more time, and visit the ones you fancy.
See the architecture in general
You’ll often see the “old” versus the “new” style of architecture pitted right next to each other as you make your way through Riga. This city is worth a visit just to see the different styles of homes, churches, and buildings – from decrepit, to Soviet-era, to modern.
Riga Castle (Rigas Pils)
Founded in 1330, this beautiful castle was rebuilt in between 1497 and 1515. Built on the banks of the river Daugava in Riga, this may be one of the first places you see when you enter the city, and what a sight it is to behold. The Castle is closed to tourists as of October 2017, but it is worth taking in this beautiful structure from the outside as you make your way into the UNESCO World Heritage Old Town – or out of the town for a canal/river cruise.
Take a canal or river cruise (for less than €20!)
This is a lovely way to end your evening touring the city: take a ~1 hour cruise on the Daugava River as the sun goes down, where you’ll have beautiful views of the Riga Castle, the National Library of Latvia, and Lucavsala Recreational Park. Beer and wine is offered on board, along with a few snacks, and tickets can be purchased ahead of time at the river bank itself, where the boats will be moored.
Proximity to Estonia and Lithuania
There are regular, low-cost buses available to Tallinn, Estonia and Vilnius, Lithuania from Riga. Ecolines offers rates as low as €18 to visit Tallinn from Riga. We strongly encourage you to explore these beautiful countries: see our guide to Tallinn and 8 beautiful places to visit outside of Tallinn, to see why!
Where to stay
We can strongly recommend PK Riga Hotel for your stay in Riga. A short walk from the Old Riga UNESCO World Heritage area, it provides clean and comfortable accommodations, with an excellent buffet breakfast, at affordable prices.
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